China is flying blind as pandemic rages

China is flying blind as pandemic rages

Science reports:

Most scientists believe China’s decision to end its zero-COVID policy was long overdue. But now they have a new worry: that the country is collecting and sharing far too little data about the rough transition to a new coexistence with the virus.

China abruptly dropped virtually all controls a month ago, after protests, a sagging economy, and the extreme transmissibility of the virus’ latest variants made clinging to zero COVID untenable. Now, “SARS-CoV-2 has an open goal in front of it: a population with very low levels of standing immunity,” says evolutionary biologist Edward Holmes of the University of Sydney. But how the epidemic is unfolding is a mystery because the country has practically stopped collecting basic epidemiological data.

Models that predicted a massive wave of infection and death if China ended zero COVID appear to have been correct. Press reports and social media posts have shown intensive care units stretched beyond capacity, with crowds of patients in wheelchairs and on gurneys in hallways. Doctors and nurses are reportedly working while sick. Crematoriums are overwhelmed. But China’s official COVID-19 death toll is widely considered laughably low. And some scientists worry a genomic monitoring plan unveiled last month doesn’t have the power to detect new SARS-CoV-2 variants arising as the virus works its way through one-fifth of the world population. [Continue reading…]

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